previous next
21. In regard to the use of maxims, it will most readily be evident
on what subjects, and on what occasions, and by whom it is appropriate that maxims should be employed in speeches, after a maxim has been defined. [2] Now, a maxim is a statement, not however concerning particulars, as, for instance, what sort of a man Iphicrates was, but general; it does not even deal with all general things, as for instance that the straight is the opposite of the crooked, but with the objects of human actions, and with what should be chosen or avoided with reference to them. And as the enthymeme is, we may say,1 the syllogism dealing with such things, maxims are the premises or conclusions of enthymemes without the syllogism. For example: “ No man who is sensible ought to have his children taught to be excessively clever,2

” is a maxim; but when the why and the wherefore are added, the whole makes an enthymeme; for instance, “ for, not to speak of the charge of idleness brought against them,3 they earn jealous hostility from the citizens.


Another example: “ There is no man who is happy in everything;4

” or, “ There is no man who is really free.

” The latter is a maxim, but taken with the next verse it is an enthymeme: “ for he is the slave of either wealth or fortune.5

” [3] Now, if a maxim is what we have stated, it follows that maxims are of four kinds; for they are either accompanied by an epilogue or not.6 [4] Now all those that state anything that is contrary to the general opinion or is a matter of dispute, need demonstrative proof; but those that do not, need no epilogue,7 [5] either because they are already known, as, for instance, “ Health is a most excellent thing for a man, at least in our opinion,8

” for this is generally agreed; or because, no sooner are they uttered than they are clear to those who consider them, for instance, “ He is no lover who does not love always.9

” [6] As for the maxims that are accompanied by an epilogue, some form part of an enthymeme, as “ No one who is sensible, etc.,10


while others are enthymematic, but are not part of an enthymeme;11 and these are most highly esteemed. Such are those maxims in which the reason of what is said is apparent: for instance, “ Being a mortal, do not nourish immortal wrath;12

” to say that one should not always nourish immortal wrath is a maxim, but the addition “being a mortal” states the reason. It is the same with “ A mortal should have mortal, not immortal thoughts.13

[7] It is evident, therefore, from what has been said, how many kinds of maxims there are, and to what it is appropriate to apply them in each case. For in the case of matters of dispute or what is contrary to the general opinion, the epilogue is necessary; but either the epilogue may be put first and the conclusion used as a maxim, as, for example, if one were to say, “As for me, since one ought neither to be the object of jealousy nor to be idle, I say that children ought not to be educated”; or put the maxim first and append the epilogue. In all cases where the statements made, although not paradoxical, are obscure, the reason should be added as concisely as possible. [8] In such cases Laconic apophthegms and riddling sayings are suitable;
as, for instance, to say what Stesichorus said to the Locrians, that they ought not to be insolent, lest their cicadas should be forced to chirp from the ground.14 [9] The use of maxims is suitable for one who is advanced in years, and in regard to things in which one has experience; since the use of maxims before such an age is unseemly, as also is story-telling; and to speak about things of which one has no experience shows foolishness and lack of education. A sufficient proof of this is that rustics especially are fond of coining maxims and ready to make display of them.

[10] To express in general terms what is not general is especially suitable in complaint or exaggeration, and then either at the beginning or after the demonstration. [11] One should even make use of common and frequently quoted maxims, if they are useful; for because they are common, they seem to be true, since all as it were acknowledge them as such; for instance, one who is exhorting his soldiers to brave danger before having sacrificed may say, “ The best of omens is to defend one's country,15

” and if they are inferior in numbers, “ The chances of war are the same for both,16

” and if advising them to destroy the children of the enemy even though they are innocent of wrong, “ Foolish is he who, having slain the father, suffers the children to live.17

[12] Further, some proverbs are also maxims; for example,
“An Attic neighbor.”18 [13] Maxims should also be used even when contrary to the most popular sayings, such as “Know thyself” and “Nothing in excess,” either when one's character is thereby likely to appear better, or if they are expressed in the language of passion. It would be an instance of the latter if a man in a rage were to say, “It is not true that a man should know himself; at any rate, such a man as this, if he had known himself, would never have claimed the chief command.” And one's character would appear better, if one were to say that it is not right, as men say, to love as if one were bound to hate, but rather to hate as if one were bound to love. [14] The moral purpose also should be made clear by the language, or else one should add the reason; for example, either by saying “that it is right to love, not as men say, but as if one were going to love for ever, for the other kind of love would imply treachery”; or thus, “The maxim does not please me, for the true friend should love as if he were going to love for ever. Nor do I approve the maxim ‘Nothing in excess,’ for one cannot hate the wicked too much.”

[15] Further, maxims are of great assistance to speakers, first, because of the vulgarity19 of the hearers, who are pleased if an orator, speaking generally, hits upon the opinions which they specially hold.20 What I mean will be clear from the following, and also how one should hunt for maxims. The maxim, as we have said, is a statement of the general; accordingly, the hearers are pleased to hear stated in general terms the opinion which they have already specially formed. For instance, a man who happened to have bad neighbors or children would welcome any one's statement that nothing is more troublesome than neighbors or more stupid than to beget children. Wherefore the speaker should endeavor to guess how his hearers formed their preconceived opinions and what they are, and then express himself in general terms in regard to them. [16] This is one of the advantages of the use of maxims, but another is greater; for it makes speeches ethical. Speeches have this character, in which the moral purpose is clear. And this is the effect of all maxims, because he who employs them in a general manner declares his moral preferences; if then the maxims are good, they show the speaker also to be a man of good character. Let this suffice for what we had to say concerning maxims, their nature, how many kinds of them there are, the way they should be used, and what their advantages are.

1 Putting the comma after σχεδόν.

2 Eur. Med. 294-297.

3 “The idle habits which they contract” (Cope).

4 Euripides, Stheneboea (frag. 661, T.G.F.).

5 Eur. Hec. 864-865.

6 Maxims with an epilogue are (1) imperfect enthymemes, or (2) enthymematic in character, but not in form; those without an epilogue are (1) such as are well known, or (2) such as are clear as soon as they are uttered.

7 Something added as a supplementary proof, the why and the wherefore; in Book 3.19 it is used for the peroration of a speech.

8 From Simonides or Epicharmus.

9 Eur. Tro. 1051.

10 See sect. 2.

11 They partake of the nature of, but not of the form of, enthymemes.

12 Author unknown (T.G.F. p. 854).

13 According to Bentley, from Epicharmus.

14 Meaning that the land would be devastated and the trees cut down.

15 Hom. Il. 12.243.

16 Hom. Il. 18.309.

17 1.15.14.

18 Cf. Thuc. 1.70, where the Corinthians complain of the lack of energy shown by the Spartans, as compared with their own restless and troublesome neighbors, the Athenians.

19 “Want of cultivation and intelligence” (Cope). “Amour-propre” (St. Hilaire).

20 In reference to their own particular case.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Notes (E. M. Cope, 1877)
load focus Greek (W. D. Ross, 1959)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide References (4 total)
  • Commentary references to this page (3):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Trachiniae, 4
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Trachiniae, 472
    • Thomas W. Allen, E. E. Sikes, Commentary on the Homeric Hymns, HYMN TO HERMES
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.70
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: